Using Joseph Coelho’s Poetry Prompts as a teaching tool

Published on: 27 February 2023

Esther Brown, Primary English Lead, shares how to teach poetry in an inspiring way.

Joseph Coelho smiling as he holds up a poem he has written

Prompt [verb]: To make something happen
Prompt [verb]: To help or encourage

As a teacher, I know that 'the poetry unit' can seem overwhelming, or perhaps in a time-tight curriculum it feels less relevant than narrative or non-fiction; it may be squeezed in or an add-on; and after perhaps just a few hours of training around teaching poetry from university, it might be a little feared. It's very common for teachers to feel less confident in this aspect of English teaching.

I've always enjoyed teaching poetry and the success it can bring to less confident writers, but in the past I've relied on a few 'trusted' poems and used close imitation and scaffolds to generate what was essentially 30 very similar versions of the same poem. And I'm not alone.

The National Curriculum places a significant value on the teaching of poetry, recognising its ability to enrich the reading experience, to spark discussion, to deepen children's vocabulary and to explore and evaluate language, its impact and how it captures the imagination.

But how to teach poetry in an inspiring, fresh way? This September I set out to seek some support.

I found a place that covered all the NC expectations; that provided a leading contemporary poet to team teach alongside you; that provided opportunities for pupils to speak, listen to, perform and write poems that are unique and personal to them; that taught poetic techniques and encouraged children to explore and play with language to elicit surprise, laughter or perhaps a deeply emotional response in the reader.

Joseph Coelho hosting Poetry Prompts next to the words 'Poetry Rainbow' and an illustration of a rainbow

Check out the brilliant, FREE resource: BookTrust Poetry Prompts

In short videos, each less than ten minutes, Joseph Coelho, Waterstones Children's Laureate and poet extraordinaire, is able to capture a whole classroom with his voice, to enthuse, to inspire and to cover all of the teaching points, whilst offering educators some fantastic classroom CPD at the same time!

To support my planning, I've found the accompanying printable resources from BookTrust and CLPE an incredibly useful starting point too. too. They highlight key teaching points, suggest ideas and save you valuable time when planning your teaching sequence.

The prompts can be used throughout the Primary age range. Younger children might spend a whole lesson or several sessions developing ideas around one prompt. This may be the same for older students too, or the prompts might form a lesson starter, 'warm up' or to revise a poetic skill.

The Poetry Prompts have supported my teaching and learning by:

  • allowing children to listen to a range of contemporary poems, expertly performed by Joseph
  • breaking down the teaching of poetic skills – you can go on a simile hunt, learn to create metaphors, use repetition for impact or experiment with onomatopoeia, to name a few
  • adding an element of deepening pupil's knowledge in the 'Poetry Power Up' section of each video
  • prompting interactive tasks and partner-led discussion
  • modelling the thinking, writing and editing process
  • developing vocabulary and encouraging discussion around words and their impact
  • developing children's independence and confidence to read aloud, perform, write and experiment with language
  • sharing themes that are accessible to all and fit with wider curriculum learning – e.g. the environment, school
  • quashing poetry myths such as 'poems have to rhyme'
  • encouraging originality and personal response when writing.

Joseph Coelho smiling while holding up a stone he's written a poem on

I've found myself thinking of so many ways I'd love to use the Poetry Prompts in the future, both inside curriculum time and as wider enrichment across school.

You could use them to:

  • plan a bespoke unit of work, picking and choosing from the prompts to create an exciting learning experience to meet the needs of your class
  • teach poetry one day each week as each new prompt is released every Monday morning
  • generate excitement for poetry across school, sharing the prompts in a weekly assembly
  • write together in the moment or allow children to add to a special display through the week and celebrate their own poems (reading them aloud at a later opportunity)
  • start a lunchtime or after-school poetry club and use the prompts to guide each session
  • create a poetry rockery or garden using the 'Writing Poems on Stones' prompt (yes, I'm spending half term gathering stones!)
  • they are a fantastic tool for cross-school or cross-Trust writing opportunities 
  • and what about using them in staff meetings as a 10-minute CPD starter for staff?

You will undoubtedly have many more ideas and creative inspiration.

Thanks to Joseph Coelho, his Poetry Prompts and his 'MORERAPS', marking the final poems of my last poetry unit required tissues on tap as I read the most emotive WW2 stanzas created by any class in my career to date.

Better still, I'd felt confident and equipped to teach new knowledge and skills effectively and knew that the children had the tools to imagine, to wonder, to experiment and to create their own unique poems – their rules, their way – with just a little help and encouragement from a prompt.

Get started with Poetry Prompts

Some of our favourite Poetry Prompts to try

Create a Poetry Rainbow

Have a go at creating a poetry rainbow by writing about colours in lots of fun different ways!

A poem about ME!

Write a poem all about YOU and the things that make you special with this Poetry Prompt.

Bring your pencil case to life!

Find out all about personification and how to bring objects to life with these fun ideas.

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